Introducing horses to lush spring pastures

Published 2:30 pm Wednesday, March 15, 2023

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By Levi Berg

Clark County Extension Office

It feels like spring is here, and guess what? That means cool season grasses are starting to explode with growth. The spring growth provides excellent forages for horses, but the quick change in diet can cause issues in your horses. Horses fed hay all winter have adapted their gut microbes to break down more fibrous material, and the lush pastures are lower in fiber compared with cured hay. This means that the lush spring pastures can easily upset your horses’ stomachs because the horse was not accustomed to eating fresh pastures for months:

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• Below are a few tips to help transition your horse from a mainly hay diet to a more pasture diet.

• Restrict the grazing time. Allow the horse on the new pasture for 20 minutes the first day and increase the grazing time by five minutes per day over a few weeks.

• Feed hay immediately before horses are turned out on pasture. This will fill their stomachs so they do not gorge themselves on the lush pastures.

• Supplement grazing with hay. During early grass growth, the amount of fresh forage might be thin so that the horses might exhaust the grass for a short time. During this short time, they might start ingesting weeds to meet their energy needs, so feeding hay can help alleviate the potential for weed consumption.

• Avoid grazing early spring pasture. The quick change from hay to forage can upset the stomach and cause significant issues. Lush pastures are high in sugar, and too much sugar can cause a horse to founder or go lame.

• Use a grazing muzzle. The grazing muzzle will slow the horse’s consumption of lush pasture and help prevent spring weight gain.

These tips will help your horses adjust to the new pastures and hopefully prevent your horse from having a stomach ache.

Article information was obtained from Christine Skelly of Michigan State University.

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